Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lucinda Roy On Effective Distance Education

I was very impressed by Virginia Tech English professor, Lucinda Roy. When famous poet/personality Nikki Geovanni wanted the deeply disturbed student Cho removed from her classroom, Ms. Roy took him on and worked with him individually. When I think about my own experiences in academe, I'm amazed. I don't think that such individual attention is common, especially at such a large university. That's why I poked around the Web, and discovered Technology and the Learning Environment: An Interview with Lucinda Roy, from 1998. Since I've become involved in distance education, I was interested to read what she had to say. She seems like a first-rate teacher.

Lucinda Roy, Alumni Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech, spoke to CAUSE/EFFECT Editor James Roche about her experience teaching online courses through the university's three-year-old Cyberschool....

Roche: Is there a risk, by doing things with e-mail and with less personal interaction, that students will never get to know their instructors' personalities and dynamic style of teaching? Or are there ways of maintaining that connection?

Roy: The question about whether we're going to lose human contact in the university environment is the predominant question that lots of us are asking, especially if we care about teaching. We do know it's the face-to-face energy that often exists in the classroom, the communal energy, that creates a wonderful space for learning. Whether there's a way to duplicate that [in an online environment] is questionable....

As we become more adept at making sure that students can access us even in their homes, it will seem more natural. Let me give you an example. Right now, my students often e-mail me three or four times a day. One thing I've learned from this online interaction is that the ways in which we speak to each other [online] are very different from the way we would speak if we were face to face. Students working online are often much more informal early in the semester. Most teachers who love tutorials really love online interaction if it's designed well. You can have the kinds of dialogue you would not normally have in a public space.

....One of the things I love about e-mail is the fact that for the most part, it is not an intimidating medium. Even students who are dyslexic sometimes really don't mind sending e-mail, partly because they can spell check it anyway. There's a sense that you can express yourself in e-mail as though you're talking to someone....You cannot learn to write unless you write. When the only channel of communication you have is the online channel, it is amazing how much people will write....students write two, three, four times as much because they feel as though they can. They feel as though they must.

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